Regional Banks Score High on Customer Satisfaction

Last Updated Apr 22, 2011 4:16 PM EDT

A couple of days ago I posted a rant about why I hate my bank. In summary, I find most of the employees are completely incompetent and waste my time. And the problems I encounter only seem to be getting worse. So I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to read the latest survey out of J.D. Power and Associates that says customer service satisfaction with financial institutions increased for the first time in three years.

According to J.D. Power and Associates, the "retail banking experience" improved over last year and satisfaction with account activities remained steady. In particular, satisfaction with in-person branch interaction, product offerings and account information have all increased significantly. The one aspect of banking, however, that still irks customers as those pesky fees. (These drive me crazy!)

What I found most interesting about this survey, however, is that satisfaction is not high across all companies. When I started to dig into the results, I noticed that smaller regional banks appear to be working harder to please folks. The larger names, where I keep my money, are doing a poorer job and received much lower marks from their account holders. (Click here to see the full results, including a break down by region of the country.)

Well, maybe I can find a silver lining here. It isn't that all bank employees are incompetent and annoying. And maybe I don't have to limit my banking to things I can do online. I just happen to have accounts at some of the lowest scoring financial institutions on the survey and need to think about moving my money. In my neck of the woods, that means opening a Northwest Savings Bank or Susquehanna Bank account, both of which I've never even heard of.

I have to admit, I don't know anyone who banks at these smaller companies. I chose my banks because these are the financial institutions where my parents had their accounts when I was growing up and they were the places I gravitated toward when I opened my first checking and savings accounts after I graduated from college. I also liked that the larger names had more ATM machines so I wouldn't incur so many fees when I needed to take out cash.

It's been nearly 20 years since I've graduated from university. It's time I face the reality that my banking needs are far more sophisticated than they were back then. For example, I now must juggle retirement and college savings accounts with mortgage and car payments. Back then I only worried about making my rent. And most importantly, having an ATM on my corner should be a very minor consideration.

In reality, I don't plan to move all of my money at once. I'll probably start out by opening a small account and seeing if I really notice a difference in customer service and the level of expertise from the folks who work at the bank. If the improvement is marginal, I may still go mostly electronic and try limit all of my face time with financial institutions.

Would you consider switching banks to one that scores high ratings on a survey?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Money image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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